Functional feed for cows – added-value rather than nutritional value

Scientists and pupils work together to enhance functional properties of grains fed to dairy cows

Dairy cows play a crucial role in Austria’s alpine grassland-based agriculture. Keeping dairy cows in good health and condition and maintaining their welfare requires the use of a healthy and balanced diet, which in turn also supports the sustainability of agriculture.
Dairy feed must therefore contain more and more energy and nutrients in order to supply the dairy cow with all she needs for producing more and more amounts of nutritionally valuable food for humans (i.e., milk). Due to the physiological adaptation of cows to feed that is poor in energy and high in fiber, developing high energy feeding strategies for high yielding cows while maintaining their rumen health poses a great challenge to animal nutritionists. Not achieving these goals results in a rising incidence of metabolic disorders in dairy cows.

The aim of the project „ Functional feed for cows – added-value rather than nutritional value“ was to develop a natural and cost-effective processing technology for grain, which increases not only the nutritional value of the grain, but also its health value - and therefore provides an additional value by acting as functional feed. By performing a broad screening of different combinations of chemical and thermal grain-treatments, the project identified new ways of reducing the ruminal degradability of the grain starch and therefore prevent metabolic disorders. Furthermore, the generated functional feed was assessed in terms of its nutritional value and its physiological effects in cows.

The projects found answers to the following questions: 1) Can functional feed for dairy cows be produced in a simple and inexpensive way in order to achieve a health promoting effect in addition to its nutritional value? and 2) What are the effects of the functional feed on the health, welfare and milk production of dairy cows?

Using a stepwise approach, different combinations of chemical and thermal grain-treatments were tested and refined together with the participating pupils of the High Technical School Centering on Chemistry. First, different variations of the processing method were tested and optimized in vitro, by means of different chemical analyses. At the same time, the grain were tested for the achieved modification of the starch structure. In the second in vitro trial, the students used the Rumen Simulation Technique (RUSITEC) to simulate the effects of feeding the prepared grains to cows.

In the second year of the trial, the optimized grain processing technique was tested in dairy cows at the Agricultural Research and Education Center Raumberg-Gumpenstein. This animal trial focused on the cows‘ health status in relation to their nutrition and metabolism. Students of the Agricultural Research and Education Centre and of the Admont Monastery Gymnasium performed physiological measurements on their own while being supervised by the researchers.

Using this broad, multi disciplinary approach, the students had the opportunity to undertake the different procedures of the whole project in an autonomous way while being supported by the scientific staff, thus contributing to reach the objectives of this project.

This project has been completed.